Where are the Diasporadic DJs?

A couple of years ago Tanzanian megastar Mr. Nice, whose music I much admire, came to do a concert here in Stockholm. I missed it. Never even heard of it. The concert took place in the immigrant-heavy suburb of Norsborg, far out on one of the subway lines, and as this video shows the attendance was almost 100% diasporadic East African. Any white faces you might spot in the crowd are very probably friends or spouses.

At the parties of DJ Thomas Gylling, who plays Soca, Dancehall, Reggaeton and other caribbean music at large upscale clubs in central Stockholm, the reverse is largely true. Here's a video montage of some crowd photos - there are probably a couple of diasporadic Trinidadians and Jamaicans in the crowd, but I'd guess not many. The majority are middle-class Swedes, some of mixed race, most white.

Now, I'm not going to tiresomely go around and try to argue that this is all somehow wrong. It's inevitable, considering the different cultures and classes involved. But what I do wonder is - why isn't there more exchange of DJs between the two club forms?
I'm a frequent RSS feed subscriber to a whole bunch of sites of DJs in the "nu whirled music" scene, like Dutty Artz and (Rupture's) Mudd Up! and (Maga Bo's) Kolleidosonic and Wayne and Wax. As DJs, they all frequently advertise club nights they participate in. I've been searching through some of the names on the bills and found almost none that regularly play events for a diaspora in the same country. I think DJ Chief Boima (weclome to the blogging world, dude) might do, from some of his comments, but it's certainly not a frequent occurence in general.

And as for the opposite, DJs who regularly do diasporadic events doing mainstream club nights, that's unheard of too, no matter what kind of music is played. Sweden has loads of interesting clubs playing non-european music, like Re:orient Club. Looking over their DJ roster you do see non-swedish DJs but none of them are from the same set that would play your local Lebanese night. No, names like "DJ Shazam" and "DJ Cheb Oman" belong to white europeans, not arabic immigrants.

It seems that deeply entrenched diasporadic DJs just never get to play to more mixed crowds in different settings than the diasporadic one. And I'm kinda wondering why. How come you never see someone like DJ Oslus DJ a party of largely college-educated white kids? If you're after knowledge of African music surely someone like that would be a good choice. Are they not good enough? Don't they send out the right kind of hipster signals?

I think there's a deep inherent danger in only allowing middle-class DJs with existing access networks to present music from the developing world. The DJ is a story-teller and manipulator and can form the discourse concerning a musical style at will - are we only ever going to hear one side of the story at party nights? I do realise that bringing a new audience and revenue stream to people might alter what they play for the worse. But is it worth the risk of one-sidedness in transmission and translation?

If Mr. Nice ever does come back to Stockholm I'll try to go see him, whatever the venue and however uncomfortable I'd feel. I'm keeping tabs on the community now through the Kenya Stockholm Blog. But wouldn't it be awesome if some club promoter would have the courage to bring him and his DJs to Berns instead?


Esoteric Research Methods #4: Youtube most viewed

You guys know I'm not overly fond of Youtube and its astoundingly annoying policy of blocking videos by country, but it is by far the biggest video site out there and a brilliant source for all sorts of video material. I think I've discovered more new stuff via the "what's related" link list on YouTube than any other method in the past year, and the site just keeps growing with new material.

Another interesting way to spot new YouTube videos (and consequently new music) is by looking at the various lists of most viewed videos available on the site. Obvious and not esoteric, you might say, but it's surprising how often you can come across music you've never heard before, seemingly randomly ascending to the heights of the day list or week list, pushed by a crowd you bear no regular relation to.

Here's just a few of the videos I've come across today (as a random sampling moment) from the recesses of the Rap & Hip Hop - Most Viewed list. The focus is definitely on stuff I would not usually access through other channels, ie. nothing American generally.

German hip-hop always features heavily on the list and I'm not overly fond of it - there's something a bit dour and formulaic about the beats and too strong a boom-bap emphasis to appeal to me immediately. One track that stood out a little bit though was Ghettobass by Azad (page 1, this month), which at least has some interesting drum machine programming now and then. French hip-hop is usually a bit more fresh and indeed something like Suis-Je Le Guardien De Mon Frere by Sefyu (page 3, this month) is considerably more exciting to me with a very engaging bass riff and atmospheric synth line.

And while we're eating off Europe's biggest countries, how about Spain? Emsis by Tr3s Monos (page 5, this month) is sample-based (which usually a no-no for me) but I like the way it's built up and the floating synth line. Italy is plenty represented on the list too, with 'U Tagghiamu 'Stu Palluni...?! by Combomastas (page 2, this week) a clear highlight - how much more gangsta does it get than Sicilian rap, especially stuff that feels this Sicilian?

The best of the big European countries is totally Poland though. With its minimalist synth-oriented sound something like W Aucie by Sokol feat. Pono & Franek Kimono (page 1, today) totally rocks my world. Sokols record company, Prosto, is well-represented on Youtube and practically all the material is killer, with a recognisable signature sound that's one of the most unique and interesting on the continent. Polish hip-hop outside this one company is not as strong but Warto Rozmawiac by CeHa (page 1, today) is also a pretty good track, I like the pitch-bent keyboard.

Of course, there are limitations to this sort of approach. All the countries I've picked out are European with a population of 40 million or more, and that's hardly a coincidence - there's bare representation on the lists somewhere from Libya, Hungary, Brazil, Holland, Denmark and Australia, but all with considerably weaker material. The genre limit means it's almost entirely straight hip-hop and that other genres don't get a look in. But even so, in just a few minutes I've picked out a whole set of songs that by all accounts are interesting and lead on to other equally fascinating threads of research. Tell me what other random sampling approach could possibly accomplish that?


Manele is for the Kids

Just gotta post about my favourite young manelist at the moment, Ionut Cercel. And when I say young I honestly mean young: this is truly the next generation of Manele singer.

The kid can't be more than ten in these videos (although there are some available where he's a little older), but he's already a fully accomplished manele singer. His vocal technique really shines on some of his slower tracks, while remaining noticably the voice of a young boy, and there's a feeling that child stars rarely are able to put across. I like.

Still, it's obviously not destined to end well and I do worry about someone this young in the music industry. Apparently a product of an eager (manelist) father who put him in a TV show, age 4, he's now 12 and out promoting his album. Some of the pictures in an album like this are quite disturbing, especially the one where he's holding a bottle of Carlsberg. There's obviously a trend with child stars in manele (with other boys like Babi Minune) and while I guess they're adorable it's maybe not that good a sign really.

Let's hope he'll manage to outlive his child star status in any case, 'cause he's obviously very talented. (A few more videos.)


Genres that Last

"Hey hey, my my/Rock'n'roll will never die"
-- said Neil Young

Well, I guess so far he's been right. Rock'n'roll hasn't died. But since Rust Never Sleeps came out in 1979 countless genres of music have disappeared or been relegated to dozy nothingness. Insignificantly small ones that blipped by on the radar. Big ones that defined an age. Some are even dying now.

But not rock'n'roll, that's survived well since the seventies. And whatever Nas has to say about it, not hip-hop either. Dancehall is doing remarkably well, again. Soca has faired better but shows no sign of seizing up. Punk is doing okay, if on a smaller, subcultural scale. Bollywood has produced some great material recently. Soukous too. And R&B -- well, you know R&B. How come this is so? Why do some genres seemingly go on forever, thirty years or more, while others fizzle out immediately?

Well, there's the obvious stuff. Vagueness is helpful. Very large size with different groups forming different understandings is probably a good idea. Chance definitely has something to with it, with the large arbitrariness of how labels are applied denying new ones survival or creating ones that are especially strong.

In general, for almost any genre that manages to stay strong over nearly thirty years, the ability to absorb generation shifts is incredibly important. Something like "rock" solves this by having each generation take over the label but kick out its current practitioners - there was no opposition in both prog rock, pub rock and punk rock being genres of "rock" in Britain. Thus the inevitable generation putsches don't necessarily involve getting rid of genres, and different groups and scenes in different circumstances all adopt the label.

Soca, dancehall and Bollywood (to name three) are different though - here it's pretty much one continuous scene with stationary and/or gradually shifting centers, yet they've remained vital throughout. I think the other possibility for a scene that will outlast its original generation is music that's very clearly functional, with a group of actors (sound systems, carnival organisers, movie makers) competing against each other and demanding good quality product from musicians. This way institutions benefit from constant development and encourage it, gradually brining in young talent instead of excluding it.

This is all idle speculation in any case. I'd love to hear anyone with a really long-lasting genre that doesn't fit either the "functional music" or "vague term that stands for something rather than represents a scene" criteria. In particular, I think the Jazz scene might have gone beyond either (with non-functional music and respect for the elders and institutions), and I do think some genres will change around over time.


Hate Thy Neighbour

The phenomenon of prole-hate in music is a curious beast. Otherwise sensible people, considered members of academia and the middle class, will passionately hate certain types of music. They will overlook all its qualities, disparage its musical appeal and consider it the worst kind of crass commerciality. And it happens over and over again, with surprising frequency, in all sorts of contexts.

Chris at Word The Cat posted about one such hated-but-brilliant genre last week, Romanian manele, and how it's hated by everyone from script kiddies to literature professors. But certainly I've seen similar diatribes against funk carioca, new orleans bounce, UK garage and so on. It's amazing how socially acceptable it can be (certainly chav-hate in the UK completely is). Certainly it can be partly explained by some sort of hegemonistic pushing of the values of the bourgeoisie, but in the end I'm not sure that's the primary motivation. Actually, I think its a lot simpler than that.

One thing that almost all of these kinds of accounts have in common is the bog-down into details about clothing, manners, appearance and other factors that have very little to do with the actual music. I think this gives a clue to what it's actually about - it's a hate of the people rather than the music, and the music gets swept along in it all. And not just any people either: it's almost always the people you don't like or didn't like as a kid in your immediate surroundings. People don't hate "proles" across the globe but close to their own community. Hence the hate for manele which is actually a hate for roma in disguise.

The same sort of argument can be made when it comes to subcultures - is there anything a "proper" hip-hop lover hates more than their immediate "neighbour" in southern hip-hop? People can dismiss loads of music but only get truly livid at the stuff that they encounter near (but not in) their own social surroundings. (A similar thing can be seen with hardcore and punk people against emos. At this point the connection to class gets tenuous indeed...)

I'm certainly not immune myself to this stuff. I can't honestly listen to or appreciate french house or britpop (among other things) because the people in the discos in York were listening to it when I lived there. Nasty fucking music for nasty fucking people! I'm trying to get past these sentiments but it's damned difficult. Maybe the worse you feel about it the more powerful it actually is, look at punk and rock'n'roll...

I think this is partly why I can appreciate writers who are completely outside the music they write about, like Fredrik Strage here in Sweden. He may write for (and I quote) "the ad executives, who want to be hip (but don't actually want to get 'down')" (AH-H) but the fact that he is so distanced from the musics serves to create perhaps a better communication between high and low than if he'd be standing right next to it. I'm not sure if this partly contradicts stuff I've previously said, but there you go.

Update: Gorgeous Bourdieu quote on this subject: "Social identity lies in difference, and difference is asserted against what is closest, which represents the greatest threat."


And now we're going to Stockholm and the votes of the Birdseed Jury. Hello Stockholm!

Hello Belgrade! I must say you've put on a great show tonight - these are the votes of the Birdseed jury.

[Now that I've plowed through them all I was going to a top ten of my favourites and a top ten of my predictions. But heck, I'm going to be so optimistic that I'll just post my favourites and make those my predictions too - I believe in the Eurovision audience, and "quality" in Eurovision terms can't be defined as anything other than broad pop appeal.]

1 point to Russia (video) (article)
2 points to Turkey (video) (article)
3 points to Moldova (video) (article)
4 points to Denmark (video) (article)
5 points to Croatia (video) (article)
6 points to Ukraine (video) (article)
7 points to Bulgaria (video) (article)

8 points goes to... Bosnia (video) (article) Bosnia and Herzegovina eight points. Bosnie et Hercégovine huit points.

10 points goes to... Azerbaijan (video) (article) Azerbaijan ten points. Azerbaïdjan dix points.

And our 12 points goes to... Malta (video) (article) Malta twelve points. Malte douze points.

Thank You Stockholm!

Iceland, Norway, Denmark, UK, Georgia, Serbia: Dreg Round Out

The very last (well almost) post of Eurovision entries rounds out all the entries that don't fit into the other categories, should have been in other categories but weren't, or that I've just not had the energy to write about before. All of them should ideally have got their own, well-considered entries but time is running critically short.

Let's start off with four more mysterious retro offers.

I grew up listeing to this sort of music, being a total Eurocheese fan around the age of ten. That was in 1991. And however much Iceland has updated some of the electronics and adapted the song to Eurovision stylistics with that soaring duetting, it's damned hard to look beyond the fact that it's essentially a stylistic borrowing from an era that falls into the Uncool gap. (Usually stuff more than a couple of years old up to maybe fifteen-twenty years old is always going to be uncool. Although the early nineties are possibly on the verge of a pending revival what with the renewed interest in Portishead and stuff.) In any case, it's gonna take some more clever reworking than this to get it contemporary - they could easily make something decent by keeping the vocals and changing the backing.

Norway's entry sorely needs heavy restructuring. Currently it's some sort of ABCABCC', of which the B part is so completely out of place it's ridiculous, with a totally different melodic feel and no apparent connection to the rest. And then C', the repeat of the bit that must tentatively be considered the chorus, goes into the same feel - bombastic broadway rather than popped-up folk song. It's major confusing and won't fly in this competition, where simplicity is utterly the key. They should have just gone for the verse and the chorus, added a Hardangerfela and written different lyrics for the second instance of the worse, walking before attempting to run.

The last Scandinavian entry also suffers from some gelling issues, with a straight-up happy chorus that doesn't really seem to work with the more relaxed verses and a strangely uncompelling bridge (though a decent middle-eight). That and its near-painful Danishness should prevent me from liking it. But the last half is killer: Beatles-like drive at a high level with a great horn part, good voice, lovely harmonies and a compelling singalong quality that could easily have gone along for several more minutes. I think this could be Denmark's most successful entry for years.

Yes, it's memorable and stuff. But the UK's entry falls under my strong aversion to fake old-style music and I'd rather not be poking at it too much. Soul fans might well vote for it anyway. *shudder*

And now for an entry that should have ended up somewhere in the previous two posts but inexplicably was forgotten.

I seem to have, eh, mislaid Georgia's pop entry with rock guitars last time but it fits well enough into that theme, with its touch of Bond-themeishness and its unusual lyrical content the only stand-out features. The eastern-ish chorus is probably the best part.

And finally host country Serbia's entry, which I'm a bit afraid might be the first step towards an Ireland-style development. First they become more and more successful at perfecting a formula, then after they win the quality of the entries slowly starts decreasing as the pattern becomes more superficial and formulaic. This isn't bad but it's nowhere near as dramatic as the best stuff; "low-key" might be the first step towards "smoothed-out". (Actually Greece is doing something similar - haven't their characteristic up-tempo pop songs become way more dull since they won it?) Watch out for a couple of bombs followed by a turkey in years to come.

There. I'm done. In time for the Semis. Phew.


Montenegro, Israel, San Marino, Slovenia, Belarus: Pop Rocks

Right. I know I'm ploughing through these with a fervour that makes Johnnn's obsession with Fleetwood Mac look like he's maybe heard a song by them once and kinda liked it. But I'm in a rush to review them all by Tuesday when the first semi-final is broadcast. So expect a couple of big, loosely-held-together round-out posts in the next few days, after which I never, ever, ever want anything to do with the Eurovision ever again (until next year).

Well, anyway, here's the other dubious trend for you - commercial pop that incorporates ideas and moods from rock. (We've had Lithuania and Azerbaijan previously who also echo this sort of theme.) Is it a more sophisticated attempt to cash in on the Finnish winner two years ago? Is it another sign the Eurovision is trendier than previously? In any case the world of rock now seems to be open pickings for all sorts of poppy songwriters.

On the other hand it doesn't have to be that modern at all. The Montenegrin entry is ageless pop-rock, the kind that might as well have been written by Elton John or Mark Knopfler or Don Henley (if they spoke Serbo-Croatian). It's reasonably well-produced and clad in a contemporary costume, and I guess the chorus is kinda memorable, but it's not going to matter an iota since no-one likes this kind of music anymore.

Israel's entry is also on the traditional side (though rather more Savage Garden than fogey-rock) but the attempt to update it with little touches of oriental pop flavour almost work. I say almost, because the greater part of the song (from about 0:20 to about 2:10) is such a straight-forwardly dull pop-rock excercise that it's a bleedin' mystery they didn't put just take the intro and the last part and constructed a whole song around that. I guess they're trying to go for the often-so-successful ethnic-western combo but the energy just deflates completely in most of the song.

It's like we're going through a gallery of different combinational approaches here. Here is the entry from debutant country San Marino and it tries to be big, grandoise pop-rock in the Andreas Johnson tradition, but here it's the production that totally, utterly falters. It so needs a big, fat beat and more soaring keyboards to work and the flagging energy in the verses is just ridiculous. It's a pity because it's a fairly fresh entry and a decent first effort from the tiny mountain nation. And it could have been real good.

Now we're reaching the opposite end of the scale - pure pop songs that incorporate a deft touch of rock in their formula. The Slovenian entry is one of my favourites all-round in this category, partly because the rock can only be felt in the little electric guitar touches and in the melodic structure and it doesn't disrupt the pop in a way that feels somehow very now. It's also probably the one song in the competition which is most incessantly memorable, with it's extremely simple and meme-building chorus. It's bound to do fairly well, pity they didn't make more out of the marvellous bridge.

Europe's last dictatorship Belarus does again what it's done every year - pick a big pop star from Mother Russia, spend millions on consultant songwriters and producers and marketeers to make the perfect Eurovision song... and fail because it's always somehow soulless, forced, and people see through the veneer of modernity to the ugly heart beneath.

Need I say that it fits completely perfectly into this category of tinkered and manipulated music?


Some Alternative Music Business Models

Last night I caught the excellent Danish documentary (I never thought I'd use all those words together!) Good Copy, Bad Copy on Swedish television. (Full video in the link provided.) It's a well-researched, pacey glance-over of all sorts of issues concerning copyright, from sampling rights, alternative models of copyright, the viewpoints from all sides of the copyright debate and so on, with pertinent interviews from Russian street vendors to the head of the IFPI.

The documentary really excels in the second half, though, when it looks at business models in developing countries with no functional copyright legislation. The two examples used are the Nigerian film business, aka Nollywood, and Brazilian music genre Technobrega, both extremely thriving scenes. The former makes money off selling many legitimate copies of cheaply-produced video CDs at a very low price. The latter makes no money off released records, instead using them as a loss leader to earn cash from assembláges (sound systems) and live recordings of assembláge nights.

I love that sort of thing, and these are certainly not the first genres to use alternative methods of earning. What's interesting, I think, is how much music adapts to the business model chosen.

There are all sorts of genres with alternative business models. Here's just three examples. You can make money off...

...exclusive one-of-a-kind records for high-paying clients. The business of making dubplates, exclusive records specially made for use by particular sound systems, has been the backbone of the Jamaican recording industry since the sixties. It's also been a huge driving force in the quick development of music on the island - since the sound systems want exclusive records, there's always been the pressure to innovate.

... making music to strip to. Ghettotech (the real Detroit deal, not the global variant) was created specifically with strip clubs in mind, and artists like DJ Assault would earn their money specifically from performing there and creating as appropriate music as they could. Is it any wonder the genre is booty-focused and misogynistic?

...t-shirts. Heavy Metal bands in the eighties would often tour at a loss, confident at making huge profits off t-shirt sales. Bands like Iron Maiden are almost more like a fashion brand these days than a band - and of course as you'd expect the image-heavy focus of the bands reflects their way of earning money.

Do you know of any interesting alternative business models? What other interesting and music-shaping ways of earning money are there?


Poland, Netherlands, Sweden, Ukraine, Czech Republic, Germany: Cosmopolitan pop?

There's been a lot of discussions and speculations what this year's Eurovision trends might be, and I've certainly heard novelties (which isn't true) and rock mixed with pop (which kinda is, see my next Eurovision post). But if I would have to name one trend that's more substantial than all the others, it's the shift towards standard mainstream, well-produced pop. Besides the six countries in this post there's also (conservatively counting) Russia, Greece, Malta, Armenia and Hungary - that's a quarter of all the entries in a fairly tight genre field.

Now, this might not seems surprising in a competition based on audience voting, but Eurovision has been notorious for lagging behind even the most stale mainstream pop. All the entries in this post, on the other hand, basically have the qualities of production (not necessarily song writing and performance, though) to do fairly well in the charts even outside the competition. If there's anything at all to set them apart it's little touches of slight national flavour in all the cosmopolitanness. But maybe, guys, it's not always the country you expect.

Take, for instance, Isis Gee. She's American, the song is American-produced, and whaddyaknow, it sounds American. Like an album track by Mariah Carey or something. Bright, overloaded with strings, slightly larger dynamic range than most European pop... It's not going to work, because Europeans can sense a straight import when they hear it (witness the failure of a similar strategy by Cyprus in 2006).

Or why not the Netherlands? Like Estonia (whose track is in some sort of fake-gibberish Croatian) the Netherlands have tried to analyse the recent win series of Eastern Europe and created something pseudo-Balkanic. I detect the rocker roots of this one unfortunately in the walking bass part that's a little to hard mixed and especially the wispy freakbeat drums, so it might not work too well on all audiences (especially with the fairly uneventful vocal performance). Still, it could do okay - people are, after all, flattered by imitation.

And then there's us (by contrast, since obviously you can hear it's Swedish, right?), and it's as well-crafted as anything we've sent of in the past few years. But I still don't like it. It feels squashed, somehow, slightly over-compressed (especially in the second verse) and there's something about the diva vocals and high-end synth riffs that reminds me unpleasantly of E-Type. Plus I've got little affection for Perelli. Still, I can easily see this breaching the top ten. But let's not dwell on it, shall we?

Ukraine, on the other hand, have everything but a very silly song title going for them. There are strong superficial similarities with Perelli's track - closer to dance music than anyone would dare do in the US, strong vocals, lack of dynamic range. But the detail work is immense, with great synth sounds, a brilliant and very modern-sounding bass line, and enough eastern flavour to work as both a cosmopolitan and a local number. Somehow, if there's anything that can be described as European pop as a contrast to America, it's this. And it's great. Top 3, if not the winner?

Another really strong entry I think. Hanson meets Timbaland meets traditional Eurovision and it actually works, it's got that coasting I associate with good-quality modern production. And it's even got a fake rewind! Still, I doubt anyone with a bit more taste will be as enthusiastic as me, so It'll probably end up in the lower half of the final.

And then there's Germany which sounds like a second-rate sleepy All Saints song and is all round snore-inducingly awful. (The secret is in the tempo or in charismatic performers, guys.)

There. If you think I'm rushing through these it's because there's only just over a week left, and I'm dead set on reviewing every track by then. Two posts to go...


Genre of the Week: Dangdut

Downtrodden working-class youth music. Apologistic support for an evil dictator. Mainstream pop for all the family. And positively filthy pseudo-pornography banned by religious authorities.

Few musics manage to be all of these things in their lifetime. Dangdut, Indonesia's big native pop genre is probably exceptional in being all of them. At the same time. Welcome to the story of what might be the most multiple personality-stricken genre in the world today.

Dangdut has some roots ranging back to Malay folk music from the forties, but it was in the early seventies that things really started to happen. Influenced by Indian film music, and by some accounts Arabic pop music, young, poor Muslims (ie. the indonesian majority, not devout Muslims per se) started experimenting with a synthesised pop form that contained local flavours, western-oriented electric guitars and a large dollop of tablas. The tablas are what gives the genre its name - "dang-dut" was a derisive description of their sound in a sanctioned government newspaper. As usual the elites disdained any new expression of working-class creativity.

And in the seventies in Indonesia those elites were pretty much General Suharto. His 31-year dictatorship wouldn't have been possible without a bit of common sense and he let most singers (like The Queen of Dangdut Elvy Sukaesih) go on performing. More troubling was the genres superstar (and King) Rhoma Irama, whose anti-establishment Islamic message and rock-infused music made him enormous and surprisingly powerful. Suharto didn't dare touch him, but made sure he stayed off television, and eventually managed (in a typical Suharto move) to neutralise him by bringing him in as a supporter of the regime.

Irama was probably the first to play around with the mixture Indian film music - pop - Malay folk, but he certainly wouldn't be the last. During the seventies disco and synth appeared as Dangdut components, followed by a veritable explosion of house, hard rock and what-have-you dangdut variants. The music is incredibly open to variety in influence, and whereas most genres tend to settle down fairly quickly dangdut is just as varied as it was 30 years ago and doesn't seem to stop evolving. Even compilations of the genre will veer wildly from totally traditional to completely remixed (with only the basic structure in common) and club nights usually feature all sorts of mixed music.

It's not strange then perhaps that it's so many things to so many people. By the late nineties this once-controversial genre had settled into broad mainstream popularity, but then how do you explain something like this?

Dangdut has easily the filthiest dancing of any music I know of, mapouka included. Just look at it.

It's fascinating and a huge step in a strange direction from when dangdut last made international headlines, when recent superstar Inul Daratista was banned by religious authorities (and criticised by Rhoma Irama) for her supposedly lascivious dancing. But her dance moves are elegant and balletic compared to this stuff. Are we seeing another mapouka development where dangdut is turning into porn? Probably not, because debates like this one seem to indicate the dirty sort of dancing is far from being disliked by young people in general.

It seems like an unusual direction for a genre that is so strongly Muslim in its image, but maybe it just goes to show just how open-ended the music is. It co-exists on so many levels, safe and dangerous, political and apologist, traditional and modern, and it'll be fascinating to see where it goes to next.

(edit: There are some futher developments here and here that I didn't spot at first. The "sexy dangdut" seems to be developing a whole subcategory of its own, it's very interesting stuff.)


I don't have music any more

I wanted to make a mixtape for a friend of mine of music I'd been listening to for the last six months. Then I realised I didn't have any of it. All music I'd been listening to recently I had on vinyl (like Neil Young or Barbara Streisand) or on Youtube. Or on MP3 blogs. I don't have music any more on my computer.

Some bigger hits were easy to find but how do you get hold of, I dunno, a background track to an indonesian semi-pornographic dance that you don't know the name of? Or an obscure piece of Electro Bubbling? (I had to give it up.)

Has anyone else stopped archiving like me? Is there a danger to this kind of over-reliance on web sources?

Oh, and in case anyone is remotely interested, here's a Youtube Playlist of as many of the tracks I could find. Crappily enough quite a few are not on there, either.


Estonia, Latvia, Ireland vs Belgium, Bosnia, France: Novelties?

I don't get it. I've read half a dozen accusations I'm sure of the Eurovision being especially novelty-heavy this year. But however I count them I only get to four proper full-blown novelties, Spain, Estonia, Latvia and Ireland. Maybe it's because I'm very restrictive in applying the tag, but something like Malta's entry is never a novelty in my book - it's a well-constructed pop song, conventionally sung, that happens to have a (subtle) spy theme. Is anything that's not
about love or dancing a novelty song?

That said, here are three clear-cut examples, two that I've seen labelled novelties but aren't, really, and one that maybe should be. Let's start off with one of the most obvious examples, Estonia.

Kreissiraadio - Leto Svet

Yup, this is a novelty, through and through, made by an appropriately "kreissi" comedy troupe. To me, that's not really a problem - I think the song works okay on its own terms. The skacid-like backing is energetic, the melody is okay, the earworm chorus is memorable (if a tad too closely connected to the Goliat theme song and the bridge of Buffalo Soldier). Whatever, though - the singers and the humour are not nearly as charming as Verka Serducha was last year, and it's going to sink without a trace. As could Estonia's neighbour Latvia, if things go against them:

Pirates of the Sea - Wolves of the Sea

This one failed to make the first round in the Swedish competition which doesn't surprise me because novelties rarely do. (Which reflects rather badly on us Swedes if anything.) The idea is obviously to create a Dschingis Khan for the nineties-- er, I mean, 21st century, by updating the semi-disco backing to some sort of bubblegum dance. It works fine in a Hits for Kidz kind of way and might do fairly well in the competition, since it's actually a well-connected, well-brought-together pop piece under the silly gloss.

Now you're probably asking, do I like all the novelties? No.

Dustin the Turkey - Irlande Douze Pointe

Ireland is a nation of Morons. Fed up with sending (and failing) with dozens of awful folk ballads they chose to "comment" on their own lack of success by sour grape blaming everyone else and making a joke of the Eurovision. Which could be okay if it was remotely funny or a worthy entry but this excrement is the worst song in the whole competition. By a mile and by every standard.

Two more countries that usually make the novelty lists this year I'm rather more reluctant to include.

Ishtar - O Julissi

This doesn't conform to any standard of novelty really, it's not meant to be funny, it's not particularly gimmicky and it's not bad at all (in fact rather pleasant and well-crafted). Except, of course, one thing: it's sung in a completely made-up language. Belgium (notorious for its language conflicts) has done this before and no-one went around accusing Urban Trad of being a novelty, because their tone was less light and springy. Mid-level final?

Laka - Pokusâj

This is where the accusation really gets weird and fairly disturbing - making fun of outsider musicians always gets my blood boiling. So, the man has a live hen on stage and dancers dressed as farmers. But how is this music novelty in any shape, sense or form? It's a heartfelt, slightly new agey pop song that's closer musically to Coldplay than to any other entry in this competition. Obviously the stage persona is not something thrown together for the occasion, and the humour is totally positive and a little sweet. I dig this a lot, I hope it does really well.

Finally, while I'm already worked up, time for an entry that no-one has dared label a novelty but which maybe should be.

Sebastien Tellier - Divine

Critics have been fawning over Tellier whose co-operations with Sofia Coppola, Daft Punk and Air supposedly makes him a "real musician". As far as I'm concerned he's a beard and not much more, and the video is by far the most gimmicky one of all the entries, with a bunch of fake Telliers in wah-wah funny locations throwing microphones at each other. I can just guess at how novetly-oriented his stage performance might be, but since he's "oh-so-distant-ironic" in his humour I'll assume it'll be far from a lone man with a guitar.

I guess the question is: why should the middle classes be excluded from the tag? To me, Belle and Sebastian are just as much a novelty band as ever The Archies. Totally another reason why the Novelty tag stinks, it's a method of propagating class repression.


Genre of the Week: Sid tunes

You can hear the sounds all over these days. Listen to some of the artists featured on Blackdown's latest Pitchfork feature on "wonky", off-kilter synths in UK Garage. (For instance, Darkstar.) Or to recent indie hype band Crystal Castles. Or the latest Nelly Futardo single. Seemingly ancient synthesizers, heavily filtered, weaving, breaking, wobbling, tightly arpeggiating.

These artists have latched onto a hugely trendy influence: a genre that has been bubbling under the surface for 25 years, yet remained surprisingly active with just as tight-knit a community and aesthetic as any other genre. I'm talking about Sid tunes, music created using the venerable Commodore 64 home computer.

The Sid chip was created by an engineer named Bob Yannes in 1981 for inclusion in what would become one of the best-selling games machines of the eighties. Yannes came from the synthesiser industry and ended up including a whole bunch of features that his superiors hadn't asked for, including envelopes, three separate ring modulators, three oscillators and fairly advanced filtering. The result was an analog/digital hybrid way ahead of the competitors in the field, and an integral part of the success of the C64.

Soon enough the chip had attracted a large cadre of talented musicians, nearly all of them European, who by the mid-eighties started realising the full possiblities of the notoriously ill-documented chip. Martin Galway, Rob Hubbard and Ben Dagliesh were all British. Jeroen Tel was Dutch. Chris Hülsbeck was German. They used the chip mathematically, discovered a way to put in crude samples using flaws in the design, and created some of the most memorable computer game music from the eighties.

At this point Sid tunes could hardly be called a genre, but that all changed with the advent of the demoscene, which started out on the C64. Amateur musicians, again almost all European, would create ever-more-spectacular tunes using the limited chip, and soon a community and a party scene led on to a well-developed aesthetic. The genre gained a canon, grew immensely and was catalogued thoroughly. The biggest Sid collection, the HSVC, contains some 30 000 tracks, the majority of which have been created long after the lifetime of the machine as a gaming platform.

So, what does it all sound like? The epithet "unstable" is probably not a bad one, internal distortion and slightly imprecise oscillator control creates a unique sound that can't properly be emulated. (Sidplay is probably the next-best choice for windows users, you'll need it a bit below.) Here's Martin Galway's classic Wizball music, which was voted the best Sid tune of all time:

As you can hear the typical sound is rather more "very fake live instruments" and "strange sounds" than ordinary synth, with lots of pitch-bending swoops, little tight arpeggios and portamento simulating everything from ghostly theremin to beatboxing. There's a certain something appealing about the attempt to eke something real out of the little chip while pushing its wobbly technical boundaries, and on classics like Last Ninja tune 6 there are almost touches of beauty. Sometimes it goes overboard with complexity - Rob Hubbard's 16-minute near-prog Knucklebusters is a good example, however excellent the detail may be - and the percussion and bass suck, but there's something about those thin monophonic synths that still touches people today.

My personal favourite (though not typical in its simplicity) is Hubbard's Commando, a simple and apparently throw-off reimagining of a Japanese arcade theme that is pushed into a living room dance floor classic by little militaristic blasts of digital gunfire, seemingly thrown in at random. Brilliant!

So how did the Sid scene belatedly end up in the spotlight? Part of it is probably the resurgent interest in chiptune music and bitpop in general, with club nights and mainstream bands. Another instrumental factor is the Sid Station, a hardware synth using the Sid chip that's found its way into the setup of a surprising array of mainstream artists. (Timbaland famously abused it.) But I think what's perhaps the most important aspect is how well the more meditative, meandering Sid pieces fit into the current electro-based soundscape, which is equally based on unstable, warping synthesis. "Wonky" indeed.


The Oglaroonian Internet

"The Universe, as has been observed before, is an unsettlingly big place, a fact for which the sake of a quiet life people tend to ignore."
-- Douglas Adams in The Restaurant at the End of the Universe

I've spent the last (and as you can see largely postless) week engaged in the rather stressful activity of moving house, and for a bit of reprieve I decided to re-read Douglas Adams's Hitch-hiker trilogy, which I vaguely liked many years ago. Not so brilliant on the whole but I did like the story of the Oglaroonians.

Rather than go out and explore the world, the inhabitants of the planet Oglaroon have amassed themselves in a single tree in a forest, creating an elaborate mythology to prevent any of them from ever leaving. Rather than face up to the vast universe, claims Adams, most people "would happily move to somewhere smaller of their own devising."

Now I'm thinking this brief incidental anecdote is a rather credible metaphor for what to me is one of the bigger mysteries of music on the internet.

The basic problem is this. The internet allows for virtually unlimited exchange of music over all kinds of borders. Yet the development of music over the past decade has been towards smaller, geographically localised scenes as much as anything, and people might be more narrow in their listening now than ever before in recent rock history.

It all seemed so remote in the wake of Napster's success. I remember reading an anti-iTunes article on The Register (it might well have been this one, where Andrew Orlowski praises "short-range broadcasting" and ready exchange of music with neighbours on the bus) and laughing at the idea that the future of the internet held anything other than an ever-widening listening range. But they were right, totally right.

The file-sharing technologies have become narrower. DC++ and then BitTorrent increasingly limited the amount and type of files one had ready access to - it's totally symptomatic that creaky old Soulseek is still superior in musical selection to any more modern service. Services like last.fm are built around reinforcing already extant tastes, or integrate them with those of your existing friends. Music blogs and podcasts are also very much limited selection tools that present "somewhere smaller of their own devising." The ambition for the truly world-wide seems to have largely dissipated.

The statistics bear this out. Swedish vote-based hit list Tracks (via) contained 31% Swedish tracks in 1997. Last year that figure was 63%, more than twice as many, and the interest in local bands here seems to never have been bigger. And look at all the local scenes that have turned up, from Snap to Kuduro - now more than ever we've got all these tiny communities in marginal cities turning out thoroughly localised genres.

Is the world really that frightening a place? And is this desire to profile yourself as a local community really a bad thing? I haven't decided, but it's nevertheless damned interesting.